Friday, 5 May 2017

Moths Which Eat Wool - a Tragedy

Tineola bisselliella copied from Wikipedia
A small insect fluttered into my face, startling me half off the chair I was standing on to reach into the back of the cupboard above the wardrobe. My companion, Elinor Gotland, let out a bleat of alarm.
"A moth, a moth!" She backed off sharpish as it settled on the floor. "Away! The foul fiend follows me!"
"Calm down, Elinor. Moths are bigger than that, they have brown wings with patterns. That insect's nothing to get upset about."
She stepped closer and bent toward it.
"Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again."
The little thing was translucent and drab, it did not look much like the creatures that flap around lampshades or immolate themselves in candles. As I fetched out a small drawstring bag of wool - one of several remnants of whole fleeces I have spun in years gone by and not wanted to throw away, just in case I might want them one day - a few more fluttering things circled back into the darkness of the cupboard. Elinor took the bag from my horrified hand. She looked grave.
"The quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see. Come, if it is nothing I shall not need spectacles."

Once the bag was untied, we found the fleece inside was littered with little dried white papery cases and a fine black grit. Deeply revolting evidence of the life cycle of the clothes moth.
"I'll get a bin bag and throw the whole lot out at once."
"Good plan, Beaut." Elinor lifted her chin, waved a hoof and declaimed "Upon such sacrifices, the gods themselves throw incense." 
The rest of the day was spent hoovering every crack in the woodwork and splashing lavender oil on the shelves. Although they are called clothes moths, the ones in my cupboard hadn't touched the clothes in the wardrobe below, or eaten the carpet or curtains. They definitely preferred the bags of sheep fleece and the less thoroughly the wool had been washed, the more infested it was. Though there was no sign of damage to clothes, I took the opportunity to clear out the wardrobe of things that hadn't been worn in years. With the windows wide to the north wind and all the cupboard doors open, both the bedroom and I felt cleansed.
"Not such a catastrophe after all, eh Elinor? Time for a cup of tea, I think." My companion was not to be jollied along.
"Not a catastrophe, no, Beaut. This is a tragedy."
"Oh, go on, the moths only ate a few leftover bits of fleece, nothing special."
"A catastrophe strikes out of the blue. The bitterness of this tragedy is that, as usual, you have brought it upon yourself. Poorly washed, inadequately packaged and left undisturbed in the dark, that wool was bound to attract moths some day. The battle is not over, mark my words." Elinor shivered theatrically. "Take heed o' the foul fiend; empty that hoover bag: keep thy knitwear fresh; relax not; forget not to change the moth papers in six months; set not thy sweet heart on spinning in the grease. Elinor's acold."

Over the past four years, I have spun a fair number of fleeces into yarn, only never quite as many as I have bought. Those that didn't inspire me to start some new project straightaway got hidden in pillow cases under the spare bed. I made a card index of them last year and the process did curb my fleece shopping habit temporarily. Though I knew I shouldn't do it, when I saw a beautiful Blue Texel for a bargain price at Wonderwool last weekend, I succumbed once again. No prizes for guessing what I found when I looked under the spare bed.

Elinor and himself came home to find Bedlam on the blasted heath, the mattress upturned, every slat taken off the bedframe, the duvet and sheets drying on the line and me going full blast with the vacuum cleaner.
"Suck, hoover, and crack your pump! rage! suck! You flysprays and detergents, spout Till you have drenched our spare room, drowned the moths!"
Elinor put a hoof on my arm.
"Could'st thou save nothing, Beaut? Would'st thou give the bin men all?"
"Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are a ewe of stone. Had I your tongue and hooves, I'd use them so That heaven's vault should crack. My fleeces are ruined forever."
Himself gathered up their remains and headed back downstairs.
"I'll take these bags down the skip for you, shall I, love?" 
Meantime, disturbing some moths that had taken cover behind the books on the shelf, my vacuum cleaner hose swung desperately in their wake.
"Do poor Fran some charity, whom the foul fiend vexes." I shook off Elinor's grip on my arm. "There could I suck one up - and there again - and there!" 
My companion switched off the power at the plug and spoke softly into the sudden silence.
"Yet have I ventured to come seek you out And bring you where both tea and toast is ready. Come downstairs, Beaut. These moths will turn us all to fools and madwomen."
"Peace, Elinor!" I brandished the hose of the hoover toward her. "Come not between the dragon and her wrath."

No heap gives shelter, no place That guard and most unusual vigilance Does not attend moth massacre. Whiles insects may have escaped, I will preserve my stash of yarn; and am bethought To make the cleanest and most spotless store That ever calamity, that appetite of moths, Brought near to ruin. That's something yet! Slovenly I nothing am. 
This week, I have mended my grubby and cluttered ways. No more piles of abandoned projects in corners nor yarn displayed in open baskets - they now contain only dyed tops within sealed plastic bags. I had no idea how much handspun yarn I had accumulated until it was all bagged up and formed into an orderly queue, each bag spending 24 hours in the freezer. Though the balls and skeins looked unblemished, this precaution was intended to kill any hidden moth larvae that might possibly be lurking inside them. Before it had a chance to defrost, the wool went straight into clear plastic boxes with lids, which are now sitting on open shelves where the light can get in. Every box has its own moth paper.
My companion gazed around the room.
"Fair play, Beaut, it is unnaturally tidy in here. I'll buy you some lavender soap to put under the bed. Good moth deterrent because the smell lasts for ages. As long as you keep an eye out for trouble, I'd say the worst is over."
"And worse it may be yet. The worst is not, So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'" I muttered grimly. "How can I ever be sure there are no moths still sneaking about?"
"Ah, now what you need is a 'Modd y Ffyca'. An old Welshman taught me this. Fetch some of that raw Blue Texel fleece."
"But I've vacuum sealed it in a plastic sack."
"Nothing can be made out of nothing." 
Putting the unwashed locks in a black box, she propped the lid open with a stick and shoved the whole thing under the bed. "If there are any moths about, they'll nest here. Just check the box every week and you'll know." 
"Gosh, thanks Elinor. All I have to do now is defrost the freezer and I can get back to spinning. You've been so brave about your own fleece, with all those moths about. What would I do without you?"
"You'll have to manage by yourself tomorrow, Beaut. I'm off for a cold spa treatment then a wash, set and blow dry."


  1. Eeep - how horrific! Poor you, all that wool sacrificed. Never mind, at least it's all cleaned and tidied and sorted now. Elinor must have been a great support to you

  2. It wasn't so much the cost of the fleeces as all the work I had put into them - skirting and sorting and suint washing, mostly. Hey ho, it's nearly shearing time and I've already been offered a couple of local fleeces. Elinor is just chilling, presently.

  3. argh, the bane of every spinner:( I don't know how much stuff I've thrown out, bit by bit! I tried to use lavender, tea tree and such, but after a while I realized that only moth balls will work properly:( they stink, ok, but I haven't had problems since... the downside: they are not made anymore, and eventually my stock will be used up, even though I bought what I could find, when I heard that they aren't sold anymore! look on the bright side: at least they didn't attack your finished yarns and clothing (yet:().... and they do eat everything woolly, they even go for sock wool (they don't seem to mind a bit of acrylic in the blend:()... I haven't found a totally safe storage option yet, they even get into plastic boxes, eat through bags etc. - it's just a question of time! funnily enough I read somewhere that sheep aren't attacked - so Elinor should be safe:)

    1. Eternal vigilance seems to be the price of liberty from moths :(

  4. The fragrant reddish heart wood for old field cedar, Juniperus virginiana, is supposed to be a moth repellent. Cedar closets, cedar chests, were lined with the unfinished wood. Every now and then rub it with some sandpaper to refresh its moth repellent properties. When himself has cut down one of these trees I always beg a length and have him trim up some palm size slats. Surely there must be something similar around where you live - maybe ask Elinor?

  5. Tiny moths are in my house right now. I haven't checked the small amount of dog yarn I got on my spinning wheel. Its in a very dark box in a dark cupboard. Eeeeek! I have been telling myself they aren't clothes moths ...

    1. Quick, quick - get it out, be bloody, bold and resolute!

    2. Yes! Stamina and tea tree oil on old acrylic swatches in every dark place, probably!

  6. Holy cow! You've got me panicking now! I had a moth attack last year and thought I'd mended my lazy ways, but I'll just go and check to be sure.x

  7. You can buy Cedar hangers for the wardrobe. They come in packs of 3,I think. I've got 6. It's just a flat rectangle of Cedar wood with a hanger sticking out the top. Every now and then, I add a drop of Cedar essential oil to the wood. Surely Cedar oil is better than lavender or ti tree? Have it burning in the house too. That'll discourage them from even coming in - they think you have a stinky Cedar house and go next door!

  8. You can buy Cedar hangers for the wardrobe. They come in packs of 3,I think. I've got 6. It's just a flat rectangle of Cedar wood with a hanger sticking out the top. Every now and then, I add a drop of Cedar essential oil to the wood. Surely Cedar oil is better than lavender or ti tree? Have it burning in the house too. That'll discourage them from even coming in - they think you have a stinky Cedar house and go next door!

  9. Right, I have ordered cedar wood hangers and essential oil - among the many advertised properties of cedar, they list an aphrodisiac effect :)